Who Serves First in Tennis?

I always find it one of the more amusing moments in tennis when players try to determine who should serve first.

I’ve seen everything from tossing a coin to asking someone to call out the shape of a logo on a racket after it’s been spun several times.

Believe it or not, I’ve even seen arguments about this.

Furthermore, sometimes there’s a little pause, especially in doubles when players can expect someone else to initiate this pre game ritual!

Who serves first in tennis? From coin tosses to flipping rackets, here's what happens before the game starts

Many new tennis players find themselves wondering about the serve order and how it’s determined.

In this article I’ll look at all of this, in both singles and doubles games.


Tennis serve

This is the first hit of the game, and the first point to initiate the rally.

There are very specific rules about where a player needs to be standing when they serve, as well as where the ball must land once it passes over the net. As the first hit of the game, it is very important. A strong serve can easily set the tone for the rest of the match.

Tennis singles

A singles match occurs whenever there are just two players playing against each other. This involves one player competing from each side of the court.

Tennis doubles

A doubles match is one where there are two teams competing, with each team having two players on it. When there are four players on the court, then the rules around serving change a little.

Who serves first in singles?

Players complete a coin toss or spin their tennis racket to see who will get to choose if they are going to serve or receive.  In pro matches, it’s usually a coin toss, but at club and recreational level it can be either.

The winner of the coin toss or racket spin is able to choose whether they want to serve first. However the loser still has a say in the outcome of the game. The loser is allowed to choose what side of the court he or she wants to play on (providing the winner of the toss decides to serve first)

While this may not seem very advantageous, being able to pick the side of the court can have a huge impact on the outcome of the game, especially as players change ends after the first game, then every 2 after that.

Very sunny days can make tennis difficult, and for that reason, a loser may want to place the opponent so that the sun is in his or her eyes.  The wind can play a factor to.

Who serves first in doubles?

When playing a game of tennis doubles, not only do players have to decide which team serves first, but also which player is going to serve first.

The team that serves first chooses between themselves which player will be the first server.

In the second game of the set, the opponents get to serve, and they are allowed to choose which of the teammates are going to play first. During the third game, the partner of the player who served in the first game gets to serve. During the fourth game, the partner of the player who served second finally gets to serve.

Players continue with this rotation until the end of the set.

In rotating serves this way, it’s very easy for players to keep track of who has served and who has not. This ensures that everyone is given an equal opportunity for serving and that nobody misses out on the chance to serve.

Doubles players have a lot to think about when deciding who will serve first from their duo.

Usually, the stronger server is often the player who goes first.

If nothing else, the weaker player should consider deferring to the stronger server and allowing that player to decide who is going to serve first.  Getting the first game under your belt can create momentum and increase your chances of winning the set or match.

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Author: Graham Scott

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